LMS Madness, and Why I’m Mad

So by now you’ve heard – Blackboard is buying WebCT, and in 18 months or so there will be one uberproduct. We all saw this coming, but still – wow.

Why am I mad? Because the state of Utah just completed a bid process to license and buy support for an LMS to be used at all state schools. And after phone calls and emails with a company who will remain un-named (why do we protect the guilty?) who assured me they would put in a bid to install / configure / support Sakai for the state, today I heard that they never bothered submitting a bid. I could spit I’m so angry. I could have worked with any of a handful of companies to get this OSS solution in the competition, but I naively believed this vendor’s word that they would put in a bid. And now it’s all said and done, and Sakai wasn’t even in the mix. I actually threw something across the room today when I heard.

Our only hope now is that the whole Bb/WebCT conglomerate madness will force the state to reevaluate its position and open another bid. You can bet I’ll be following up a lot closer with the next vendor I choose to encourage to apply. (And since when do businesses need convincing that a statewide, multimillion dollar contract is a thing they should want???)

I’m seeing double.

6 thoughts on “LMS Madness, and Why I’m Mad”

  1. If Google (or Yahoo or vendor of your choice) were to release a free LMS or CMS service, with Flickr-like open data, open APIs, to support state schools would you support that type of implementation or do you feel it needs to be truely an open source product?

    I just listened to Jonothan Schwartz talk at OSCon and found him to quite articulate at stating the case for free software, in both user freedom and economically free.

    The other issue that I have seen in person is that when states pay multimillions, they mandate use. While this reduces (sometimes) the cost of support (IT-support, not user support) it really stiffles innovation.

    I was interested in your opinion.



  2. That’s a shame about Sakai.

    I fought hard against the system they installed on our campus. So when said system was just acquired, I had to snicker….

    Do what you have to do, but I would highly recommend avoiding BlackCT. I read on Downes via slashdot:

    “Wow, so two of the worst pieces of software I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with will now be under one roof. Maybe this will spark some competition that’s actually worth using.” Then I realized that if software this bad is the state of the art in the field, it probably means that there’s no real money to be made in the field, so no one will bother. *sigh*

    Couldn’t have said it better meself.

    Ever thought of using Blogger as an LMS? Just get an AOL-IM account and your state’s in business!

  3. While I’m certainly not objective on this topic I do have an unusual view of the market by virtue of visiting with hundreds of HE institutions each year across the globe. From my perspective regardless of which technology platform or business model you prefer the real crisis in HE is the continued focus on just the technology, as if it where an end in and of itself. The world of HE technology is dominated by innovators and early adopters who assume the benefits of learning related technologies are self evident but their priorities and budgets are controlled by an academic leadership that is still very skeptical. Whether you’re a Bb, WebCT, Moodle, or Sakai client I’d like to see more people demonstrating accountability for what they already have and define what they want in the future by focusing on identifying the institutional problems they are trying to solve and then actually assessing the outcomes. Until this starts happening the HE LMS industry will remain caught in Moore’s chasm of 30-40% faculty adoption and continue to be considered just so many technology bells and whistles by Provosts everywhere and a step child IT product by CIOs when compared to their administrative systems (in terms of budget and commitment of personnel). Further, I don’t see why Sakai and Bb have to be mutually exclusive options. If both are committed to an open architecture based on open standards that allow for interoperability why couldn’t someone mix and match components from both. Bb has made very serious and well intentioned overtures to Sakai to work on interoperability and common APIs only to be rebuffed, where’s the supposed openness in that?

  4. Yes, Bb and WebCT are both steaming piles. However, there are options.
    D2L seems to be winning business in northern states and Canada (Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota). I use it in at UW-Milwaukee, as does the entire UW university system. Folks are dumping Bb/WebCT.

    No, it’s not open source. It appears to be built with Microsoft tools. So it’s Pepsi, not Coke but at least it works. I’ve taken 8 courses on it and have no major complaints…

  5. Yes, yes and yes again to David Monson’s observations. And I’m an IT professional! Less new technology, more proven, effective technique please.

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